Miss. Confederate day could get civil rights nod

Published 3:09 pm Friday, February 4, 2011

Mississippi could soon have a combined holiday to recognize civil rights and the Civil War, if some lawmakers get their way.

The state House voted Thursday to designate the final Monday of each April as Civil Rights Memorial Day. That’s the same day that’s been marked for decades as Confederate Memorial Day.

The Confederate designation would remain, so state employees would have a single day off to commemorate two very different periods in history.

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Rep. Earle Banks, D-Jackson, has proposed a Civil Rights Memorial Day for years, but his bills — including one filed this year — have died with little consideration in committees.

On Thursday, the entire House debated a bill to give state employees the Columbus Day off work on the second Monday in October. Federal employees get the holiday now, but state and local government workers in Mississippi do not.

Banks persuaded the House to adopt an amendment combining Civil Rights Memorial Day with Confederate Memorial Day. He said it wouldn’t affect the state budget because workers already have the day off.

“I respect that people have the right to celebrate Confederate Memorial Day, but allow me to celebrate the people who died and gave their life so I can have the right to vote and the right to sit in this chamber,” Banks, who is black, said in an interview later.

His amendment passed on a voice vote, with some members opposing it.

The bill passed 75-43 and moves to the Senate for more work.

Some who opposed it said they have no problem with Civil Rights Memorial Day but they worry about the cost of a new Columbus Day holiday.

Lawmakers said during debate that the state employee payroll for a single day is about $12 million. Supporters of a Columbus Day holiday said the state is already spending that money, and an additional day off would be a perk for workers who’ve gone a long time without pay raises.

However, Rep. Mark Formby, R-Picayune, said local governments would have to pay overtime for police officers and firefighters to work another holiday, and that could be expensive.

A combined Confederate and civil rights memorial day would not be the first split-personality holiday in Mississippi.

The state already marks the third Monday of January to celebrate the birthdays of both the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

The bill is House Bill 776.